The holy, the broken, the powerful Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen Vector Tribute by Vectorportal

Leonard Cohen Vector Tribute by Vectorportal

I find the greatest beauty in things that hold different meanings to different people. Things that speak to our shared human experience, but yet contain something unique for each person.

In 1984 Leonard Cohen released Hallelujah. Little came of it until John Cale did a cover, giving his own interpretation. John’s version led in turn to Jeff Buckley creating the probably most famous cover of the song. When Buckley died a few years later his cover became a classic, even making Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at #264.

That was just the beginning. In the 19 years since then the song has been covered by artists from every genre, each giving it their own shape. Covers on YouTube have millions of views, and now many more than Rolling Stone consider Hallelujah one of the greatest songs.


The minor fall, the major lift

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?

For many people the song is a modern hymn, full of religious hope and reverence. It is a praise to God and all His mystery, majesty, and love. Allison Crowe’s version flows with her belief, even changing one of the lyrics from “holy dove” to “Holy Ghost”.

And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Others took it the other direction, making a highly sexual song about love, lust, and consummation. Buckley described his version of the song as a “hallelujah to the orgasm.” Cohen’s original version appears in the movie Watchmen during a very NSFW sex scene where the two characters are freeing themselves through their passions.

There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

And in the middle of these interpretations is an exaltation of the sheer aching joy of being alive. Of all the wonder and heartbreak and hope over just how fragile and precious life is as we try to find our way within it.

hal·le·lu·jah – An expression of worship or rejoicing

Hallelujah is all these things. It becomes something different for each artist who performs it, and means something different to each person who hears it. It’s an incredible song, and an incredible piece of art.

I’ve made a Hallelujah YouTube playlist of some of the different covers I mention here if you want to compare them side by side. You may also want to check out The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”, which explores the history and many strange tales surrounding the song.

I’ll close with one of my favorite versions. I love it because it brings several artists together where you can see each of their different voices and approaches blending into one, beautiful arrangement. The casual set juxtaposed with the soaring song just makes it all the more powerful.

Whether you see a God in it or not, the desire to rejoice remains.

Four great history podcasts worth listening to

Hercules by Jeff Moriarty

Hercules by Jeff Moriarty

I’m a big fan of podcasts and audiobooks, on every topic from pop-culture to science and technology. I shuffle them all together and listen to this odd audio salad while driving or working out.

I’m also endlessly fascinated by history, from the history of the Universe itself to the history of specific fascinating figures. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself and our current world by looking at the path people have traveled before us. If you’re a history buff or just mildly curious for some new stories, there is some amazing material out there created by history buffs.

These four excellent history podcasts really stand out in my rotation, each for different reasons.

Stuff You Missed In History ClassCasual, conversational, broad. Part of the great Stuff You Should Know network, each episode Deblina and Sarah explore random topics from throughout human history. The format is very casual and engaging, and even when they cover topics I already know fairly well I rarely decide to skip ahead.

A History of the World in 100 ObjectsFascinating, obscure, well produced. What do the objects we leave behind tell us about ourselves? As part of their History of the World production, the BBC put together a list of 100 objects from the British Museum that represented major turning points in the history of mankind, ranging from the first religions to the the invention of money. Each one has its own episode, and listening to them in order is an incredibly engaging trip through human history that follows a very different path than most historical summaries. The series is, sadly, complete, as I could have listened to another 100 episodes of this easily.

The History of RomeCasual, quirky, fast-moving. Mike Duncan starts from the mythical founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, and continues past the Republic, through the Empire, and ends with the last of the Western Emperors 178 episodes later. If Rome has ever seemed like a dry topic, this podcast might change your mind. Mike is not a scholar, just a big fan of Roman history who loves to talk about it. Start from the first episode and listen right on through. You’ll not only get a better understanding of the history of Rome and the rise of Christianity, but the politics and issues that plagued Rome might  look a wee bit familiar…

Hardcore HistoryDeep, engaging, insightful. Dan Carlin’s podcast is aptly named. I won’t see an episode from him in a month, then a two-hour monster suddenly lands on my iphone unlock. I never get that long to listen at once, so I groan when these beasts show up but I always plow through them. Dan is also an enormous history fan, and he covers topics ranging from the Eastern Front in WWII, to whether our modern civilization could fall entirely apart like it has in the past. He gets not only into the “facts”, but also how our perception of them changes over time. He likes to compare our view of an event today from what it must have been like to someone living at the time. Very engaging, but not a casual listen.

Those are my standouts in the history category for me, and I’m always looking for new ideas if you know one I missed.

The Sagan Series: An optimist gazes outward

“I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.”
~ Charles M Schultz

I always enjoyed that quotation partly because there are so many ways to read it. Do you like our species collectively but hate individuals, or do you like our idealized concept, but think collectively we’re a bunch of jerks?

You can make a great case for both.

I’m endlessly fascinated talking with individual people, but as a species I’m not quite so bullish. More accurately, I think we are going to reap what we sow, and we’re sowing a whole lot of nasty into everything from our food supply to our global climate. I would not be surprised if I could gaze a thousand years into the future and find Earth entirely devoid of people.

Cheery, eh?

That long-term pessimist in me is one of many reasons I love people like Carl Sagan (and Richard Feynman, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, et al). They are far smarter than I, and not only have an optimism about the future but spend/spent much of their lives trying to take us there… kicking and screaming if need be.

The video below is the first part in The Sagan Series, which sets video to some of his more well known quotes. The Frontier is Everywhere looks out to imagine a world where we’ve finally reached the stars, and what those far descendants of ours will be like.

If you enjoy this, they are starting a companion series featuring Richard Feynman, which is different but just as fascinating. Feynman was a little more… cantankerous than Sagan, but just as brilliant.

I hope the optimism both of these esteemed scientists have for humanity proves well warranted.

Speaking of Death – What happens when you address a silent topic

Starlight by Pankaj Kaushal

Starlight by Pankaj Kaushal

Last August I gave a talk at Ignite Phoenix After Hours on why death is something we, as a society, need to discuss more openly. The talk, and what happened afterwards, hit me rather hard so I haven’t discussed it much since.

I believe there is nothing more precious or personal than our own lives, and we should have the ability to end our lives with dignity whenever we deem it is no longer worth living. We cannot have strong Right To Die or Assisted Suicide laws unless we discuss this openly.

I also believe that many people needlessly take their own lives in moments of depression or despair, when they think there is no one who can help them or understand. We can save lives if people feel more open about discussing thoughts of suicide with those they love.

I’ve spoken many times in front of crowds, but my talk at Ignite Phoenix After Hours was the toughest I’ve ever given. There is no video, but you can read the bulk of what I said on my earlier blog about choosing to die. The talk itself went well, but as I came off the stage I was not prepared for the reaction.

Nearly twenty people approached me that night. One woman worked in a Hospice. A man was caring for his terminally ill mother. Another woman had attempted suicide when she was younger and knew how hard it was to talk to people. People kept coming up to me with their stories until I left the venue and went home to collapse.

They talked to me about it the next day. The next week. Nine months later, I had someone come up to me out of the blue at a grocery store and thank me for my talk. I was overwhelmed.

It kind of spooked me from posting anything more about the topic, which is ironic given the message of my talk. I didn’t want to become “that guy who always talks about dying”. I also felt woefully unequipped to respond to some of the powerful things people were sharing with me. Even though I knew most people just wanted someone to listen to them who understood, it was still very difficult to do.

Which is part of the whole issue here, right?

There is nothing more intimately, mortally personal than our own experiences with death, and I stood up as someone willing to talk about it. It doesn’t mean the topic came easy to me. I carry around a lot of the same cultural baggage on this topic as everyone else. It just means I’m willing to try and work through it, and be willing to listen when others want to talk.

And I encourage you to do the same. If you make it clear to the people you care about that you are willing to talk about suicide, living wills, euthanasia, and end of life care, you may be surprised who you find in your life that really wants to have that conversation.

In my Ignite presentation I referenced the powerful BBC documentary, Choosing to Die, in which author Terry Pratchett grapples with his own thoughts on suicide in the face of advancing Alzheimers. The entire video is on Vimeo, and you can watch it below.

Terry Pratchett – Choosing to die from Lisette Leona on Vimeo.

In Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die, He explores the realities of medically assisted death. Having been diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's disease in 2008, Terry considers how he might choose to end his life as his condition progresses. In a moving documentary he meets those who, like him, would like to control the way they die including a men suffering from degenerative conditions and he is with a British motor neurone sufferer as he carries out an assisted death at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

List of fantastic Arizona beers and breweries

Beer Sampler by JMR_Photography

Beer Sampler by JMR_Photography

I love beer. Most people would probably consider me a beer snob in that I can’t stand Coors, Budweiser, or other popular brands. I like craft beer and exploring all the different tastes and styles from IPAs to stouts. Though if you really evaluated me to real “Beer Snob” standards I’m still very much of a newcomer, and I’m happy that way. I just like exploring tasty things, and don’t really care much about IBUs and brewing differences required for different grains.

I’m also a bit of an Arizona nerd, and am of the firm opinion there is far, far more to see, do, and experience in this state than most people realize. Complain to me there there is nothing going in Phoenix (or Arizona) and watch my eyes start to twitch. So when a commentor on a local board said there were “no good Arizona beers”, it hit two of my nerd buttons at once. The person is, quite simply, an idiot.

Great Arizona Beer

Being a Baby Beer Nerd, I did not want to craft a rebuttal on my own. I kicked it up the food-chain and asked the Arizona Craft Beer Lovers group on Facebook for their favorite Arizona beers. I specifically did not ask for “best Arizona beers” as this was not a competition, and beer preferences are very subjective. I just wanted to know what the Serious Beer Nerds in Arizona really like. They delivered!

Thirty-three different craft beers…
across thirteen Arizona breweries…
in nine different cities!

It’s a great list. Some of these I haven’t tried myself, so I got my own homework out of the deal to correct that issue.

Beers listed in Green were the most popular in the group, and everything in Yellow also received multiple votes. I put in each brewery’s home city, but most of these beers are available throughout the state. I also added a link to the brewery’s website so you can get more info.

Brewery Beer City
Arizona Wilderness The Refuge IPA Queen Creek
Four Peaks 8th Street Ale Tempe
Four Peaks Raj IPA Tempe
Four Peaks Sirius Black Tempe
Four Peaks Belgian Black Ale Tempe
Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter Tempe
Four Peaks Kiltlifter Tempe
Four Peaks Oatmeal Stout Tempe
Four Peaks Hop Knot Tempe
LumberYard Big Rapid Red Flagstaff
Mogollon Mesquite Smoked Porter Flagstaff
Mogollon Wapiti Amber Ale Flagstaff
Nimbus Old Monkeyshine Tucson
Oak Creek Nut Brown Ale Sedona
Old World Old World Red Ale Phoenix
Old World Nitro Blonde Ale Phoenix
Papago Orange Blossom Scottsdale
Papago Elsie’s Milk Stout Scottsdale
Papago Belle Epoque Scottsdale
Papago Oude Zuipers Scottsdale
Prescott Brewing Achocolypse Prescott
SanTan Hefeweizen Chandler
SanTan HopShock I.P.A. Chandler
SanTan Gordo Stout Chandler
SanTan Negro Nitron Chandler
Sleepy Dog Red Rover Tempe
Sonoran Sonoran 200 Scottsdale
Sonoran White Chocolate Ale Scottsdale
Sonoran Inebriator Scottsdale
SunUp Armadillo Red Phoenix
SunUp Horizon Hefeweizen Phoenix


No Excuses – Drink Arizonan!

If you just weren’t sure where to find great beer made in Arizona, or were intimidated by unfamiliar names and labels, you’re out of reasons to procrastinate. Arizona has tons of great beer and brewries, so get out there and try some.

I know there are many others out there, so if I missed your favorite, tell me about it!

Update: Arizona Ale Trail Map

The good folks over at the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild made a map of almost every craft brewery in Arizona for you to download and enjoy. This list is always changing, so check back for periodic updates.

Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown – Are you Fan enough?


Phoenix Ultimate Geek SmackdownIn brightest day, in blackest night, in a galaxy far, far away, the Geeks gather to do battle, and the question on everyone’s mind is… who will survive, and what will be left of them?

Only one will walk away supreme in the Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown!

Many will enter Phoenix Comicon thinking they could hold this title. They may know Boba Fett’s middle name, or the specific yarn used to knit Freddy Krueger’s sweater. They may know twelve different colors of Kryptonite, or be able to diagram Mario and Luigi’s family tree. But do they know all of the above without phoning, or tweeting, a friend?

That’s the challenge laid before the Phoenix Geekerati as contestants debate each other in topics drawn from the areas of Comics, Horror Movies, Science Fiction, Gaming, and the dark and foreboding… Wild Card. Each debate will feature a classic selection from one of these categories, like Who is a better Captain, Kirk or Picard? Winners will advance until they have proven their universal Geek wisdom against all challengers.

If you’re coming to Phoenix Comicon (and if you’re not, you lose your Geek cred right there), then it’s free to enter! Just visit and cast your hat into the ring.

Either way, be sure to come check out the event as part of the Horror Track, at 8:00pm on Thursday, in room 129A, courtesy of the queen of local grindhouse, the Midnite Movie Mamacita. The crew at Lightning Octopus also plans to represent with some cephalopodic braggadocio.

Somewhere out there is the Ultimate Phoenix Geek. Is it you? As everyone knows…

…there can be only one!



Peek inside the Freestyle Custom Coke Machine

Shops around Phoenix have been rolling out the new customizable Coke machines. These are called Freestyle Coke machines and they let you make your own flavor from 106 different combos. The entire thing is driven by a touch screen, and has sub-menus to help you refine your flavor. For example, if you pick Diet Coke, the next screen lists Diet Coke Vanilla, Diet Coke Cherry, Diet Coke Orange, etc.

Sociologically, it is hysterical watching people faced Inflammation with this overload of choice, standing there with their cup in front of the machine as if taking some sort of strange test. Added fun is watching them taste some of these bizarre flavors for the first time. Many are, in technical terms, butt-nasty.

Technically, I wondered how these things worked. I got lucky today as I stopped in while one was having its soda cartidges changed. I snapped a few quick pics.

Freestyle Coke Machine - Admin Screen

This is the admin screen that pops up when a flavor cartridge is being changed (click image to view on Flickr and see larger version). The user takes a flavor cartridge of concentrated syrup and swipes it near the lower right of the top panel of the machine. It senses which flavor it is (RFID, I assume) and goes into maintenance mode. It pops open the access panel (below), and brings up the step-by-step admin screen that you see above. Here he is changing a Powerade cartridge.

Once he is done, he just uses the touchscreen to step through the rest of the replacement process. The machine can tell when flavors are not only running dry, but also approaching their expiration date. He said the OS is a custom system written by Microsoft. I asked him if any of the sodas Blue Screened, but he didn’t seem to get the joke.

Freestyle Coke Machine – Access Panel

This is the open panel on the bottom half of the machine. Each of the flavors is in a long cartridge that slides into a slot. It reminded me immediately of a printer with ink cartridges. The major flavors are in the bigger cases, with the modifiers (grape, orange, etc) in the narrow ones at the bottom. When a cartridge is slid into place it is clamped down with a little latch. A status light initially showed red, but switched to green once the machine accepted the new insert.

Old cartridges are just thrown away. The guy working it said the syrup is so highly concentrated that if you get any on your clothes, you are just going to have to throw them away. Every cartridge replacement required closing the access door and letting the machine come back online. Then he would swipe the next cartridge and repeat the process. This seemed rather inefficient from a human operator perspective, but I imagine make the machine easier to troubleshoot and program.

You can click the pictures for larger versions on Flickr. I tried to get as much detail as I could without getting in his way. These are cool little machines, and it was interesting getting a peek inside.

Phoenix restaurant suggestions from Phoenix food fans

Best Mexican Food in Arizona

Image by Al_HikesAZ via Flickr

One of Phoenix’s shining features, to the perpetual consternation of my waistline, is an incredible array of good food and best survival knife. While it may take some driving to get there, if you’re willing to spend some time behind the wheel, tastiness abounds!

I was hit online with a request for local suggestions for where a vistor to the Valley should partake, and I threw out out my own suggestions. I then pinged a few of the local online food-obsessed folks I know, and they responded in style. Joe Johnston, local restaurateur and over-acheiver, led the list with a crazy number of suggestions. Stephanie Quilao, and a few others also chimed in.  I had been to most of these, but wanted to compile them all for any other locals or visitos who may be interested.

If I missed one someone suggested, I apologize!  If you have your own suggestions, please leave them in a comment below.

Visit our Retro Kitchen and let us know what you think.

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Sharing my Items of Interest

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 07:  Curator of the ...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

While not blogging nearly as much as I should of late, I do still read voraciously online. I read blogs on everything from webcomics to tech to social media to screenwriting to skeptics to the inability to punctuate long lists of items in sentences to self-referential references*.

I’ve always lacked a good way to share the cool things I’ve found. I tried Friendfeed, Shared Google RSS items, and other methods, but they never seem to really work across the board.  So now I’m giving Posterous a try.

From the Using It Wrong department, Posterous is intended to be a central syndication point for content, with the ability to publish to many different streams. I’m just using it’s quick clip/post feature to grab articles and put them online. I’m also going to try and always add a comment, as if I’m sharing something I find interesting it seems like I should at least be taking a moment to explain why.

If you want to follow my stream of shared items, you can find it at my jmoriarty Posterous site, or subscribe to the main Posterous RSS feed.

If you just want to follow the social media items I find interesting, you can follow my social media Posterous items, or subscribe to just my social media Posterous feed.

Hope you like them, and let me know if I miss anything spiffy.

* I want to formally apologize for this sentence. It falls well below my normal standards of butchering the English language.

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Getting Tased

Sharon's Stagette: Taser X26

Image by hradcanska via Flickr

Last week while I was at the Taser International offices, they said they would be willing to tase me if I wanted to know what it was like. I knew right away I had to try this out, and a quick poll on Twitter confirmed this should happen.

None of my coworkers were willing to give it a try, so I was doing it solo. They were very willing to take pictures and the video below. I was nervous, which they didn’t help by informing me they would be using their top of the line law enforcement X26 model taser. This thing looks all business, and fires two unfriendly looking probes into the target to transmit the electricity. Lucky me, I was gonna get the full show.

I took off my dress shirt so it wouldn’t get punctured by the probes, and put on mandatory protective eyewear just in case a probe went wild. Two people held my arms to lower me down, and one of their certified trainers got ready behind me. That leads into…

Given how some people handle being tasered, I think I did rather well. Not much I can add about the experience that isn’t in the video – very intense, like a massive charlie horse across your entire body.

Taser X26 cartridge and coin

Image by Moriartys via Flickr

The coin they gave me is pretty slick, and I kept the cartridge with the probes. It really didn’t bother me that much when they yanked them out, but it’s probably a good thing I didn’t look at them too closely beforehand. They look like little harpoons.

Why would you get tased?

After it was over they asked if I was an adrenaline junkie since I didn’t really scream or swear. I’m not addicted to adrenaline, but I am addicted to trying new things and having new experiences. Here was a chance to try something everyone knows about but few people have experienced, in about the safest way possible.  Painful, sure, but now I know things about tasers (and myself) that I didn’t know before.

Why did you want to do this?  I can think of a lot of things to do for the experience instead of that.  But that’s my boy.
~ from my mother after seeing the video

I believe life is meant to be lived and explored in all the strange ways you can find it. I love problems that I haven’t solved, and things I haven’t done. I don’t always have an end goal, and often the exploration itself is enough. About the only thing I’m really scared of is losing that interest, and no longer wanting to try anything new.

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